The culture today is full of complainers – Christians and non-Christians both. It’s hard not to be with constant disruptions affecting our lives. We are creatures of continuous unhappiness and traumatic events. A recent Barna research reveals that 82% – 8 out of 10 teens (13 to 18 years of age) admit to having a traumatic experience in their life, most of which can continue to haunt us throughout the rest of our lives. Even in the best of situations, complaining seems to be the only way to vent our emotions after a life-changing event. Overcoming it, however, involves more. It means confronting it, changing our thinking and waiting on God and His final return to ultimately repair our broken world that caused it in the first place. Until then, we endure living in constant messes of life
Is complaining the only way to vent, then? Or can we think differently? What if we purposefully practice lamenting instead of complaining?
Complaining begins with personal observation.
We see traumatic events in isolation – it’s all about what happened to me. Sociologists say that problems aren’t problems to us until they affect us personally. We register – feel that something is not right first. Our emotions are pricked, but the depth of that disturbance depends on us. How sensitive are you? On a scale of one to ten, do you feel a need to complain about everything that affects you personally, or are you able to absorb discomfort to a higher degree? For most, it depends on the what, where, how, and why the pain is radiating from and to.
Complaining doesn’t help; it only makes things worse.
Constant complaining isn’t the solution, but some good can come from it. There is a kind of camaraderie or an acknowledgment that somethings wrong. We feel connected to a community of complainers who have also experienced the same pain making us feel heard and understood. Comments like, “I am done with these long rainy days, or “It sure bothers me when people just can’t get along” acknowledges a shared issue and invites even allows others into the disturbance. This community response can produce comfort and a door to share the misery and do something about it. This kind of constructive complaining is what I choose to call lamenting as a believer in Jesus.
God tells us to lament.
In a recent news story about shop owners in LA after rioters had destroyed their store, I observed the difference. As the shop owners were sweeping out the debris, they weren’t angry and complaining but were sympathetic to those who were suffering. They saw their pain which was so severe that the rioters were forced to violence before the public would acknowledge the injustice. The shopkeepers decided instead to pray for those who had destroyed their business. They said, “while we disdain the way rioters have destroyed our shop, we know that the destruction is replaceable, but lives destroyed even killed can’t always be.” They weren’t complaining but were lamenting.
Lamenting is Biblically healthy. Most Christians don’t run to read the book of Lamentations in the Bible. It documents the lamenting (complaining/lamenting to God) by the Children of Israel at one of the darkest times in Jewish history. When Christians don’t lament, it means we have stopped listening, learning and leading with sensitivity. In a recent Caring Magazine, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah stated, “Lamenting is an appropriate, spiritual response to the pain and suffering we see in the world. “It recognizes that there is pain and suffering. To lament is not an option; it’s a call.” Lamenting means we are followers of a God who cares. As such, God calls us to care for those in pain and suffering. “Without lament, we lose a sense of the injustice in the world and the need to cry out to God for healing,” Rah said. “Instead, we revert to exceptionalism and triumphalism, believing we will always win.”
Has the Church spent too much time stating how we “always triumph in God” (II Corinthians 2:14) and not enough time on how we are to be “living sacrifices?” (Romans 12:1).
What we often forget is that with great lament comes great joy.
Lamenting with and for others opens us up to greater joy in Christ’s promises. We become a community of hope. We’re adamantly prodded and instructed by God to seek and trust Him when others suffer – together. When we do, we reap the joy together because it is God that wins the battles and overcomes and not ourselves. We can then rejoice together as a community when suffering ends. Divine love and trust in God are a win every time. When we attend a funeral of loved ones and friends, we lament together. But, as believers of God’s promise of eternal life, we can also rejoice together, knowing that our earthly body may die, but our immortal soul lives on with God. We lament and shed tears of temporary pain, knowing eternal joy wins. We walk in the knowledge of transformation. Death has no lasting sting because of the final and eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Next time you want to complain, choose instead to lament. A focused lamenting prayer changes things that complaining never will. It’s changes hearts and lives.